ISOC stacking the deck?

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ISOC stacking the deck?
User: terminus
Date: 17/3/2013 1:30 am
Views: 4900
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First off, I'm a long-time Internet Society (ISOC) member and former chapter director (some of the publications to the side are ones that I wrote for ISOC-AU), and I would like nothing better than for ISOC to continue to play a significant role in Internet governance, with the areas of its competence. However I happen to believe that others with different competencies also ought also to have a significant role, and that seems to be my main area of difference with ISOC's current management, who would rather that ISOC was in the driving seat.

In its global public policy positions, ISOC is a conservative institution with interests closely aligned to those of the United States government. It has always resisted any evolution to existing Internet governance arrangements, even when most other stakeholders regard those arrangements as capable of improvement. Neither the US government nor ISOC participated in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) in 2003-2005, but once the WGIG report was released, both were immediately critical of all the options put forward, including the idea of a new Internet Governance Forum.

Since all the other stakeholders enthusiastically supported the formation of the IGF, one of their fallback positions of the US government and ISOC was that the IGF should be a function of ISOC itself. Only when that option was rejected did ISOC eventually come around and agree to the formation of the Forum at the eleventh hour of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), then shifting its focus to ensuring that the Forum would not be able to fulfil its mandate, such as that of "making recommendations, where appropriate".

Since the original Executive Coordinator of the IGF, Markus Kummer, happened to share this objective of limiting the IGF to a discussion-only role, it was an obvious match for him to take up employment with ISOC when he retired from the IGF, where he could continue to further that objective. But perhaps not quite so appropriate for him to be seconded back to the IGF for this February's IGF open consultation and MAG meeting, as the Chair of its MAG.  It is not hard to see the conflict of interest in a senior officer of the Internet Society, which is on the record as opposing reforms to the IGF, chairing the body that has been tasked with implementing such reforms by the Commission on Science and Technology and Development (CSTD) through its Working Group on Improvements to the IGF.

Pointing this out on an ISOC mailing list (or rather, when my message about this on another list was forwarded to ISOC) elicited a furious response last month. But there were worse soon to come. Last week, it came to light that ISOC may be attempting to stack the deck of the new CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation, too, by excluding academics from outside of the technical community.

The background to this is that Constance Bommelaer, Director of Public Policy for ISOC, had been nominated by the CSTD Chair as the focal point for collecting nominations from the academic and technical communities. Michael Gurstein, a very respected figure in the field of community informatics, applied for nomination and was told that he did not qualify as "representing the technical and academic communities" by reason that this is reserved to those who have "contributed to the building of the Internet", and further limiting this to an "interpretation (where) the technical and academic community includes individuals who have technically built the Internet".

As I wrote in a draft letter on behalf of the Internet Governance Caucus (IGC) (that now looks like it won't be sent due to lack of consensus), there is no justification for such a restrictive interpretation of the scope of the technical and academic communities either in the WSIS output texts, nor in the practices of institutions such as the IGF or CSTD since then. It would exclude a large number of active and qualified academics working on Internet governance issues outside of the purely technical, who potentially have important insights to contribute to the CSTD Working Group.

It is important to remember that WSIS and WGIG recognise the academic and technical communities not as a separate stakeholder group, but as a cross-cutting constituency that includes members from civil society, the private sector and government. It is also important to remember that WGIG defined Internet governance as covering issues much broader than the purely technical, covering the development and application of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.

Whilst the contribution of those who have contributed to technically building the Internet is of vital importance, Internet governance is not just about technical standards, protocols and resources. It also involves questions of international relations, law, economics, development policy, community informatics and many other areas in which academia has special expertise that members of the narrower Internet technical community may not.

I would like to be able to say that I can make these constructive criticisms as a friend of ISOC, because that is what I consider that I am (though given that this week they vetoed my selection as an expert panelist in an ISOC-supported conference, obviously they don't feel the same way). But regardless of how it makes them feel about me, someone needs to point out the signs of abuse of power here. ISOC should not be attempting to control the IGF or enhanced cooperation discussions by trying to stack those processes with its friends and employees.

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